Like using Fed Ex to borrow a cup of sugar?


Welcome to my town, or at least a map of it. San Leandro is about 18 miles east of San Francisco. I’ve lived here about eight years. My wife is part of the neighborhood association. Our oldest son works at a great restaurant (Paradiso’s) just a short walk from home.  We’ve made friends here. We belong.

But the other day I learned new things about this town, by visiting a website called that was created by two guys in New York City. Their site automatically located me on my first visit and showed me local news and blog links for Oakland – a tolerable assumption given that I live a stone’s throw from that city. When I typed in my zip code San Leandro came into focus. When I visited this morning I saw a copy block in the center of the screen about comic books – and right beneath it the name and address of the comic book shop where my 14-year-old son window shop.

I am wowed. And in a moment I’ll tell you what I’ve learned about the site and its founders but first let me share my issue: is this how local connections will develop? Through clever, centrally deployed technologies that allow isolated social units to mingle, at least in the virtual sense, through some cyber-intermediary (that will presumably sell our eyeballs and clicks to national advertisers)? is slick enough to work at that business level. But I want more from social media. I want community. Real community. Clicking into the cloud to find the local comic store is commerce. But is it community? I guess, if by community you mean using Fed Ex to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbor.

Setting such angst aside, I’d call phenomenal. An article in MediaPost says it was founded by author Steve Berlin Johnson and computer interface designer John Geraci. I focused my curiosity on Geraci, and that led me to GlowLab (where arsty-fartsy meets techno-groovy?) and from there I found my way to this snippet:

“John Geraci is a recent graduate of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU whose work investigates location as a vector in communications and social interaction. His prior work includes Grafedia, a platform for authoring hyperlinks on physical surfaces, Neighbornode, the extensible neighborhood network, and the Usophone, an instrument which produces music through skin contact between two or more people.”

MediaPost says the site launched after a four-month beta; is in 63 cities and 3,217 neighborhoods (do they mean zip codes?) and raised “$900,000 in financing from Union Square Ventures, Milestone Ventures and Village Ventures, as well as three angel investors.”

The closest competitor to — at least of which I’m aware — is, and to the extent that is true, it strikes me that Topix is like the front page of the newspaper while would be more like the fun feature pages on the inside. Sorry for the limiting metaphor. I’m a newspaper guy and I realize these onsite sites are already much, more more than a place to read stuff and their ultimate evolutionary destiny remains unclear, at least to me. So I struggle to describe the future by reference to the past.

And here let me just say a few words about community and social media. My desire, my ideal is to see the community-building tools broadly dispersed, like desktop publishing software. Today’s social media sites are at the stage of time-sharing computer systems. I think that will change and the local dispersal of tools and the next round of localization will occur. At least I hope so for personal, political and sociological reasons.

But for now, just thinking of these centralized-localizes as businesses that are struggling to flourish, I think they will have to look for local champions. I admit that this is my pet idea, the core of my own failed business plans, so take this with a grain of salt. But I believe most people coalesce around other people; it is the rare birds who flock around ideas. Social media engineers must consider how to identify and reward local champions.

But don’t take that from me. Listen to Slashdot. Meanwhile, if any other wanna-be local community builders out there have a spare cup of sugar, you know how to get it to me.